Mayo left Croke Park on Sunday evening with far more questions than answers, as a 14 man Derry team ran at them and right through them, into the National Football League final in a fortnight's time. For the second time in the space of a few weeks, Mayo had a man advantage and a decent lead, but they were unable to see the game out and came up short in Croke Park. When Fergal Doherty was shown a second yellow card and ordered off the field for a late challenge on Aidan O'Shea in the build up to Mayo's goal 24 minutes in, it should have been the staging post for Mayo's march to victory. But, they never got moving as freely as expected and Derry ran out deserving winners.
James Horan after the game commented that if they game had gone one a few minutes longer, Derry would have ran out even bigger winners. With New York coming up in three weeks time and then the challenge of either Leitrim or Roscommon in June, there's still plenty of time for Horan and his team to put the pieces back together and have another serious crack at the All Ireland.
Mayo had a few issues to contend with before the game even threw-in, Cillian O'Connor sat out the contest after picking up an injury last week, while Tom Cunniffe wasn't able to start with Shane McHale taking his place in the starting 15. To compound matters more, just half an hour into the game Ger Cafferkey had to come off injured with Kevin Keane replacing him. With the Westport man becoming the senior man in the full-back line, alongside McHale and Brendan Harrison.
Early on things were going well for Mayo and they were leading by 0-3 to 0-1 after eight minutes with Alan Freeman kicking two points from placed balls and Aidan O'Shea tipping the ball over the bar after he broke a Derry kick-out to Donal Vaughan, who slipped the ball back to O'Shea to put it between the posts.
Derry pulled themselves level not long after with Emmet McGuckin and Ciaran McFaul kicking points to go with an earlier Mark Lynch score. Lynch was the main man on the day, kicking nine points over the 70 minutes and tormenting the Mayo defence for long periods. Kevin McLoughlin put Mayo back into the lead after 12 minutes, but it was short lived as Derry grabbed their first goal not long after. Lynch won possession from a Derry kick-out and drove at the heart of the Mayo defence. The ball was passed around the Mayo goal mouth with McGuckin and Lynch recycling it, until it found it's way to Cailean O'Boyle who put it past Robert Hennelly in the Mayo goal. Mikie Sweeney responded with a point for Mayo after he did well to create the space to get a shot off at the end of a move started by Jason Gibbons. A Mark Lynch point stretched the gap back out to two points after 22 minutes, but Mayo were back in the driving seat very soon after. Aidan O'Shea chased after a ball along the sideline in front of the Hogan Stand, he got there a split second before Fergal Doherty, who caught O'Shea late and was punished by referee Padraig Hughes with his second yellow card after the play ended. O'Shea was able to move the ball on to Kevin McLoughlin who in turn fed Mikie Sweeney. The Kiltane man took the smart option and moved it on again to Andy Moran inside the cover and the Mayo captain not for the first time sent the ball to the back of the net in front of Hill 16. Mark Lynch responded with a great score under pressure to level the game up, before Lee Keegan pushed Mayo's noses back in front again a few seconds later. There was ten minutes left in the half and Derry went on to outscore Mayo by 0-3 to 0-1 over those minutes and went in leading by 1-8 to 1-7 at the break.
Freeman and Jason Doherty kicked early points for Mayo with O'Boyle replying for Derry after the resumption. Mayo then hit a patch of form and kicked three points on the bounce with Doherty, Gibbons and another Freeman point pushing them 1-12 to 1-9 into the lead. Donal Vaughan then broke through on goal, when the Derry defence opened up in front of him, but Thomas Mallon saved well. Not long after Derry struck for their second goal, after they held on to the ball for a long time and worked the chance for Kevin Johnston to palm to the net. The build up to the Derry goal saw the Oak Leaf men evade a number of attempted tackles by Mayo defenders.
Mayo responded well with Freeman kicking another point from a free and Enda Varley hitting a fine score to push Mayo back into a two point lead. Derry though kept coming back and Lynch kicked two points to bring the the game level once again. Lee Keegan had a goal chance after being put through by Seamus O'Shea, but Mallon once again stood tall and put the ball out for a 45' that was converted by Freeman. But that was as good as it got for Mayo as Derry reeled off four points on the bounce from Karl McKaigue, Enda Lynn and a brace from Mark Lynch to put themselves three clear. Mayo had one last chance at the death when Andy Moran drove a free from the edge of the area at the goal, but it cleared the bar and the full time whistle was blown.
Mayo have to dust themselves off and get ready for the start of the championship in three weeks time, but they know themselves there's lots of work to be done to get ready for what will come later on down the track in the summer.
Mayo: R Hennelly; B Harrison, G Cafferkey, S McHale; L Keegan (0-01 ), C Boyle, D Vaughan; A O'Shea (0-01 ), J Gibbons (0-01 ); K Higgins (0-01 ), A Moran (1-01 ), J Doherty (0-02 ); K McLoughlin, A Freeman (0-5, 4f 1 ‘45’ ), M Sweeney (0-02 ).
Subs: K Keane for Cafferkey (33 ), E Varley for McLoughlin (48 ), T Parsons for Higgins (60 ), S O’Shea for Gibbons (63 ), R Feeney for Doherty (70 )
Derry: T Mallon; O Duffy, C McKaigue, D McBride; K Johnson (1-00 ), G O'Kane, SL McGoldrick (0-01 ); F Doherty, P Bradley; C McFaul (0-01 ), M Lynch (0-09, 5f ); E Lynn (0-01 ); B Heron, E McGuckin (0-01 ), C O'Boyle (1-01 ).
Subs: N Holly for O’Boyle (46 ), A Devlin for Herron (52 ), E Bradley (0-1 ) for P Bradley (62 ), A McAlynn for Johnston (66 ) C Kielt for McGuckin (66 ),
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh )